Peru buries heroes of hostage rescue; rebels quietly interred
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peru held hero’s funerals for two soldiers killed rescuing 71 hostages and a captive who died in the dramatic military raid, while 13 rebels were put to rest in solitary burials without mourners.
Peruvian television and radio reported today that all but one of the rebels, including leader Nestor Cerpa, were buried in several cemeteries throughout Lima without the knowledge of relatives, many of whom live in the remote jungle far from the capital.
President Alberto Fujimori had said the rebels’ bodies would be returned to their families. But only that of Roli Rojas Fernandez _ Cerpa’s chief lieutenant _ was claimed by relatives.
Rojas’ sister, Maria Rojas Fernandez, said in a telephone interview this morning that authorities didn’t allow her family to pay their last respects before burying him Thursday night on the outskirts of Lima.
``They made us take him to the cemetery directly,″ she told The Associated Press. ``They said we’ll take care of the costs and we’re going to bury him immediately. We couldn’t even see him for the last time.″
Maria Rojas Fernandez said she saw only three other relatives at the morgue of the military hospital. She accused the government of trying to have the bodies buried as quickly as possible without having anybody see them.
Newspapers reported today that authorities handed over Cerpa’s body to his aunt. Cerpa’s body was shown Wednesday on Peruvian television still sprawled on a stairway at the mansion the military stormed Tuesday, ending a four-month hostage drama.
Fujimori, who was shown stepping over rebel bodies and dispassionately inspecting Cerpa’s corpse, has not responded to newspaper and television reports that some of the rebels were killed as they tried to surrender, or that their bodies were later mutilated.
The president attended the funerals Thursday of Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, the only hostage to die in the raid, and those of the two commandos killed, Capt. Raul Jimenez and Col. Juan Valer.
Kenji Fujimori, the president’s 16-year-old son, fought back tears as he kissed the coffin of Valer, his former bodyguard.
Valer, 38, was shot seven times as he ushered Peru’s Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela to safety during the half-hour raid that ended the Tupac Amaru rebels’ takeover of the residence.
``He fell bravely in the cause of Peru and peace,″ the younger Fujimori shouted, mourning with Valer’s widow, two children and hundreds of military officers at a sun-drenched Lima cemetery.
``I feel very proud of him, but at the same time I feel an emptiness, an emptiness that will never be filled,″ he told a Lima television station later.
For others in Peru it was time to rejoice.
Jubilant relatives of the 24 freed Japanese hostages arrived to see their loved ones, and Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda came to thank Fujimori, whose approval rating soared after the raid.
One of them _ an executive _ arrived in Osaka today, saying hostages survived because they were disciplined and stuck together.
``One misstep and I would have been dead,″ said Shigeru Taki, president of Panasonic Peru.
In Peru’s Congress, legislators clapped as five Peruvian congressmen who had been held hostage since Dec. 17 arrived in the chamber. One wore a neck brace. ``We’ve missed you a lot,″ said lawmaker Susy Diaz.
Fujimori’s popularity rose from 38 percent in a poll on Sunday to 67 percent during a survey Wednesday, a day after the raid. Of the 420 Lima residents surveyed, 84 percent supported Fujimori’s decision to use force and nearly nine out of 10 approved of the military’s performance.
The Apoyo polling firm’s survey had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Red Cross representative Michel Minnig denied his organization had anything to do with sneaking tiny microphones into the residence that reportedly were used to eavesdrop on the rebels in the days preceding the military blitz.
``If I had found anything in the material we brought in, I would have removed it,″ Minnig told CNN’s Spanish service.
He said everything brought into the residence was inspected by police and by the rebels.
At the Gardens of Peace cemetery where Valer and Jimenez were buried, President Fujimori said Jimenez, 27, made a path for the 140 commandos who stormed the ambassador’s home and was gunned down when he rushed into a second-floor room.
``He was the first to open the way for the rest of his companions,″ said Fujimori, his voice trembling.